A guest article by Jan J, a long-term Kadampa Buddhist practitioner.
Here are some experiences that remind me how the hidden truth of karma is constantly influencing our lives – how we’re all part of a complex symphony composed by causes and conditions.
Pooh sticks karma
Yesterday I was arranging for four family members to meet up for a walk, and after a lot of back and forth about when to meet, where to walk, which café etc, I found myself wondering if it was worth it. Surely, I thought, it should be easier to get four adults together in the same place at the same time?
But then I started considering the impact of karma. It wasn’t just the schedules and preferences of four adults I was dealing with; I was also dealing with each individual’s karmic seeds created in countless previous lives. Imagine all the actions we had individually carried out as ‘Brahma, Indra, Chakravartin kings, gods and ordinary humans;’ and the complex, karmic consequences created by these. (Seeds planted in our mental continuum many lifetimes ago by ‘strangers.’) It was in fact nothing short of miraculous that the four of us were able to keep spending time with each other, over and again, in this one short life.
We believe that we’re controlling the events in our lives but they possibly bear more resemblance to Pooh sticks, twigs on the river currents of our previous karmic actions. Sometimes the twigs move at the same pace together, other times they separate, racing ahead on a faster current or held back by debris. It’s impossible to control the unpredictable journey of the twigs, just as it’s impossible to be in full control of our time spent with others. We can make plans, kidding ourselves we are able to decide what will happen; but at any moment our plans can be impacted by unseen karmic currents. Perhaps our plans will go smoothly, perhaps our meetings will be delayed, perhaps that was the last time we would ever see them … and we never knew.
Given the unlimited possibilities for how our individual karma will ripen, we can appreciate how rare and precious these meetings are and not take them for granted. Each appearance of our loved one also requires the exact right conditions for those karmic seeds to ripen, as a plant needs moisture and sunlight. Until we attain enlightenment, our journeys will always be as unpredictable as twigs carried along a river, our time together as limited and transitory.
Although the momentary mental intentions that initiated our past actions have ceased, the potentialities they have created in our mind do not cease until their results have ripened. ~ How to Transform Your Life
Recently at a house sit in the Peak District I met the owners, who were ‘strangers’ to me. As we chatted, it transpired that many years ago we’d lived in the same street, miles away in the huge city of London, and that our oldest daughters had been born in the same hospital.
We’ve all experienced these odd coincidences. But they’re not really coincidences – rather they briefly reveal the hidden karmic connections that are present between us all the time. A vast, invisible web connecting us in ways we cannot imagine, dating back countless lifetimes.
On a beautiful walk last Spring, when the rising sunrays caught the early-morning dew, the world was suddenly full of glistening, gossamer webs – webs that had been invisible to me on previous walks. How differently would we behave if we could always witness these delicate, complex karmic threads that connect us? The world would no longer be full of ‘strangers’ who have little relevance to our lives, and compassion and love would come so much more easily, I’m sure. Venerable Geshe-la for me is like the sun and the dew – revealing the webs connecting all living beings, helping me to understand how, in truth, we are not separate at all.
Because we cannot recall our previous lives, and because the aspect of our mothers changes from life to life, we do not recognize them or remember their kindness; but this does not alter the fact that all living beings are in essence our kind mothers. If we regard all living beings in this way, it will be easy to develop pure love and compassion for them. This will prevent us from getting angry or jealous, and will encourage us to help them as much as we can. ~ The New Eight Steps to Happiness
I’m preparing a workshop for children who have a parent in prison, based around a book called The Invisible String, which helps children separated from a loved one by explaining that there is an ‘invisible string’ of love always joining us at the heart.
A few years ago, my daughter and her friends plonked themselves down with a huge pile of loom bands – a craze at the time, these were little rubber bands that kids wove into bracelets. The girls explained they were trying to make the longest chain they could for a little boy they had heard about on the news.
Skye was only 5 years only and dying of cancer. When his family asked what they could do for him, he replied that he wanted a loom band that would reach all the way to the moon. His family told the media, and all over the UK kids got on it. It was beautiful to see how happy it made the girls in my lounge to help this little boy, no longer a stranger, fulfill his wish.
I posted a photograph of them on my Facebook and, unexpectedly, a young man named Sam, whom I hadn’t seen for years, replied to thank my daughter. It just so happened that Skye was a member of Skye’s extended family. I had known Sam well when he was a boy and he brought me much joy; but life had separated us, so I sent him a message to say how sorry I was that Skye had died and asking if he’d like to attend transference of consciousness (powa) for him at our local Kadampa centre. And to my surprise, he came. He loved the explanation of powa; and we both left feeling that we had gotten that little boy not just to the moon but to the Pure Land beyond.
I think that many beautiful connections like this are happening all the time; and that, when we open our hearts to others, that web stops being invisible.
We are all interconnected in a web of kindness from which it is impossible to separate ourself. ~ How to Transform Your Life
At an International Kadampa Summer Festival, receiving wonderful teachings and mixing with hundreds of people wishing to benefit others, I was thinking about karma. About these connections we make with ‘strangers’ that ordinary logic cannot explain, and particularly about our karmic ‘debt’ with people in our present life, all of whom we’ve met and interacted with in previous lives. Consequently, on a level we cannot perceive, depending on conditions, our karmic seeds ripen when we meet; and we respond and react accordingly.
On the first day, seeing toddler Uma nearby, with whom I admit I’m besotted, I immediately walked over to see her. She doesn’t know me very well so I’m only entitled to crumbs of her attention; but they are like banquets to me. I was delighted when she took a step towards me; whereupon I noticed that one of the flower buckles on her small shoes was undone. My great reward was that she allowed me to bend down and do it up, and then looked directly at me for a second before turning back to her mum. Who was she to me in a previous life that, upon meeting her now, my action was to prostrate at her lotus feet and delight at one second of recognition?!
The next day I was helping after lunch with the recycling, people scraping and putting cutlery and plates into boxes; my job being to politely help them find the right boxes to keep the queue flowing. We naturally helped people who were struggling to scrape their plates because of umbrellas or queues – but at one point, when someone was just standing back waiting, I automatically stepped forward to take their plate, like a servant might. This could have been a natural continuation of a relationship that began before we were born for somehow we both knew this would happen: that they would wait, and I would take.
Later, it was pouring with rain, a deluge; and most of us were dripping wet or struggling to juggle umbrellas, bags, and books. But not a friend who walked past – she was completely dry and relaxed, sheltered by a large umbrella carried by another friend. It was so natural that he happily held the umbrella and that she accepted, nothing proud in her demeanour and complete willingness on his side.
Our lives are like karmic dances we’re all engaged in without realising – karmic debts playing themselves out on large and small scales, such as us bending to retrieve a stranger’s dropped scarf, return a wallet unopened, place food next to a homeless person while they sleep. The effects of virtuous actions of past lives are ripening now in the present; and, in the ballroom of this life, the unseen choreographer is our previous kind actions. With this wisdom understanding karma, we can understand how it is completely within our power to choreograph the incredibly beautiful dances of our future lives through our present acts of kindness.
Buddha taught that the mind has the power to create all pleasant and unpleasant objects. The world is the result of the karma, or actions, of the beings who inhabit it. A pure world is the result of pure actions and an impure world is the result of impure actions. Since all actions are created by mind, ultimately everything, including the world itself, is created by mind. There is no creator other than the mind. ~ How to Solve our Human Problems
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